Want to raise little ones with good manners? Here are some tips on teaching table manners to your toddlers and preschoolers.
Teaching table manners is parenting 101.
It’s long and it’s hard and the road there is paved with a lot of dinner time insanity.
We had to, in fact, make a seating arrangement at our table just to have some peace and quiet. And, nearly every evening with our 5 little kids, we do guided discussions just to keep people focused.
And to prevent 5 kids from all talking at once.
It ain’t easy teaching table manners, mama!
What's in this post...
But how should we go about teaching table manners?
Let’s break it down.
There’s no reason our children should reach adulthood without learning table manners. In fact, the earlier we teach them, the easier it will be. Once certain habits become ingrained, it’s difficult to rid ourselves of them.
So, go ahead and start teaching your babies and toddlers. Once a child is able to sit in a highchair and feed himself, table manners training should begin.
Set Clear Expectations
As with anything in parenting, we cannot expect certain behaviors of our children if we don’t first teach them what we expect. When teaching table manners, tell your child clearly what you expect.
Does this mean chewing with his mouth closed? Having a napkin on his lap? Using silverware properly?
Speaking of silverware, this can be a sticky issue.
We always want to be consistent, but silverware usage is very inconsistent in our society. Why is it okay to eat a sandwich with our fingers but not spaghetti? For that matter, why is it okay to eat raw carrots with our fingers but not cooked ones?
Be sure to explain to your child when you expect him to use silverware and when it’s okay to use his fingers.
As always, model this behavior for them.
Have Family Dinners
Speaking of modeling behavior, make it a point to have family dinners as often as you can. The benefits of family dinners reach far and wide.
It’s true that dinners with toddlers aren’t always the most pleasant experience. And yes, they need to go to bed early. And yes, sometimes our husbands get home from work late.
As with any parenting situation, think outside the box and make family mealtimes work for you.
Keep Mealtimes in the Funnel
It’s important to not expect too much of our kids when it comes to table manners, but at the same time, we need to give them more responsibility at the table when they show that they’re ready.
Here are some factors to consider when keeping the child in the funnel while you’re teaching table manners at the dinner table:
1. Give Them Real Dishes
Plastic plates, sippy cups, and airplane forks should be done by the time the child is 2 or 3. If you’re worried about him breaking dishes, teach him proper usage and practice with the plastic plates.
If your child consistently throws plastic plates on the floor, he’s not ready for real plates. So, make it a point to deal with this behavior before you move on to real dishes.
Psst… if you’d like to give them a specific placemat that helps them learn silverware placement, etc. these are fun.
2. Give Them a Napkin
Yes, bibs and sponges make cleanup easy for us, but we need to teach our kids how to wipe their hands and faces.
Confession: my 6-year-old has developed a horrible habit of wiping his face with his shirt. I don’t know how this one slipped my notice, but we’re working on it with gusto!
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3. Expect Neat Eating
There are some kids who cannot eat a meal without getting the food all over their faces. I, personally, have spilled ketchup on myself so many times it’s a joke with all my closest friends.
If you end every meal giving the child a full wipe-down, start teaching him how to eat neatly.
Here are some tips:
- Teach letting the food drop off the spoon before putting it into their mouth.
- Help them while their mouth with napkin after every bite if food ends up on their face.
- Discourage them from licking the food off their cheeks.
- Give them napkins regularly and encourage their use.
4. Eat at the Table
This should be a no-brainer, but some parents allow their kids to eat all over the house.
This usually applies to snacking, but in our house, ALL food is eaten at the table.
Setting boundaries as to when and where food should be eaten goes a long way.
5. Make a rule about picky eating
Because I have 5 kids, I don’t require everyone to take a bite of something at each meal.
I’d need a nightly spreadsheet to keep track of it all.
Instead, we made an easy to remember rule of thumb, or rather two ones we use interchangeably the kids know well.
- “You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit.”
- “You have two options: take it or leave it.”
If they don’t want to eat what I’ve cooked that’s fine. Because I know kids who are truly hungry will eat.
6. Discipline Behaviors You Don’t Like
As with any habits we teach our kids, we can start disciplining if we’ve done everything in our power to curb bad manners.
If we’ve set expectations, kept the child in the funnel, and modeled good manners, there still will be times when our kids make bad choices. So take the time to discipline them for it.
When my youngest was still in the highchair and drinking milk from a bottle, he had this horrible habit of launching his bottle across the kitchen when he was done.
He did it night after night, no matter how much I told him not to.
I set up a pack-n-play around the corner from where we sat and I would swiftly take him out of his highchair and plop him in there every time he threw his bottle.
We would do this routine, which included getting eye contact while offering and acknowledging the unmannerly behavior. When we were done, I set him down and had him pick up his bottle off the floor.
Start teaching table manners today
Teaching table manners is important.
If you’re unsure how to start or what to expect, sit down with a pen and paper and jot down what you think are the most important rules for table manners.
Eating with mouth closed? Swallow before you speak? Proper silverware usage? Whatever it is, decide what good table manners means to you and start teaching!
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Ideally, as soon as your child starts eating at the table! It’s never too early to start teaching children what utensils to use, how to wipe their faces, and which foods they can eat with their hands or not. You can get more specific and refined as your children get older, but it’s never too early to start.
You model behavior, explain it clearly to your child, and guide them at the table as they eat. Have clear rules and expectations, then follow through with those at the table. Children also appreciate knowing exactly what you expect.
Little kids often have “bad table manners” without really knowing it. Babies may stand up in their seats, throw things, or smear food. Toddlers or preschoolers may eat with their hands instead of a spoon, get up and down from the table, talk over others, or wipe their hands on their clothes. Older kids may blow their nose at the table, speak with a full mouth, talk or reach over others, etc.
They are important in that they guide normal behavior at the dinner table. And eating dinner together as a family IS important for many reasons. It builds connection, relationships, and gives each person a chance to be heard and understood. It is family strengthening so, if table manners help this, then yes they are important!